It’s easy to love people when they are kind and sweet, but what about when they’re tired and cranky or even mean and nasty? One of the hardest things to do is to love unlovable, prickly porcupine people.
In previous posts, I’ve confessed my porcupine-ish tendencies, addressed the trigger points that often turn people into growling, hissing, quills-out porcupines. I then wrote about different ways we can react to the porcupine people in our lives. Of all the options I shared in that post, the best way to disarm a porcupine is to hug them….that’s right, hug the porcupine. But it’s very important to hug that ornery creature in just the right way.
So, in this post, I’d like to explore five ways to “hug” the porcupine in your life — your spouse, child, parent, in-law, friend, or co-worker.
WARNING: Not every single one of these “hugs” will be effective or timely in every and any situation. And you may still get pierced by the persons quills even if you use these techniques, so proceed cautiously. Also, talk with your spouse, when neither one of you is in porcupine person mode, about which of these works best for them. I’ve included a bonus conversation starter at the end of this post.
With that said, let’s explore these five ways to “hug” the porcupine:
1. Hug the Porcupine with Your Arms
This can be tricky. But sometimes, we just need to put our arms quietly, slowly, and carefully around the porcupine and just hold them –without saying a word. This doesn’t fix anything, but it does send the message to them that you care about how they’re feeling, accept them as they are, and love them no matter what.
2. Hug the Porcupine with Your Hands
Sometimes, the porcupine person needs the active help of their spouse to get them through a particularly overwhelming or frustrating situation. This kind of hug shows your spouse that you want to help in a practical way. So proactively, look for things that you can do that may ease their burden and do things that they might normally do. Cook dinner, help get the kids ready for bed, do chores, or pay the bills — all while they just relax.
3. Hug the Porcupine with Your Words
Our words in moments of frustration can either stoke the fire or extinguish the fire. Use words that show them that you sympathize with them, that you feel what they feel. “Aww, honey, I’m so sorry you had a rough day. I feel terrible about that.” is a good place to start. Or, “You’ve had a frustrating day, what can I do to help?” may be a possible tranquilizer as well. These 5 Types of Powerful Words for Your Marriage may help as well.
4. Hug the Porcupine with Your Eyes
Sometimes our eyes can say so much. Making direct eye contact is an important nonverbal signal to someone that you are there — truly present and with them. It conveys that they are important and that this very moment is important. Plus, sometimes the prickly spouse, parent, or child needs to see, through your eyes, that you empathize with them. That you are aware of the pain they are experiencing. It’s easy to overlook the pain of another when you have so much going on in your own life. But, when you let someone else’s pain touch your heart and it moves you…perhaps to tears…you’re letting them know you care. And that’s a start.
5. Hug the Porcupine with Your Ears
Listening to your porcupine carefully is an important way to let them experience your unconditional love in action. If my wife, Susan has a porcupine moment, sometimes I just need to be patient, through a good vent, without saying a word. Other times, it means letting her talk, then asking good questions, and then actively listening to help draw out the story behind the story.
One important skill to use when trying to listen well is to restate what you think you heard them say without judging what they say. “So, I hear you saying XYZ…is that right?” That let’s them know that you actually listened to and processed what they said, and it gives them the opportunity to correct something if they were misunderstood. If you want to improve your listening skills, The Gift of Listening will help.
And remember the warning: Not every “hug” works every time. Some may be completely ineffective with certain people and others may actually appreciate a combination of these hugs.
Bonus Conversation Starter
Sometime soon, when neither of you is being a porcupine, take some time for each of you to review a recent prickly encounter you had with the other. Ask this question: “Of all the ways that I could react when you get like that, what’s the best way for me to respond?”
What are some ways you’ve learned to show unconditional love to your spouse, your child, or another person when they are being prickly? Or is there a way someone had a good reaction to you when you’ve been unlovable? Please share your comments below.